There are many supposed “golden rules” for matching the right bottle of wine with your meal, beginning with the long-established notion that red wines are suited for red meat dishes, while white wines are best enjoyed with fish or chicken.
“If it grows together, it goes together” is another oft-cited rule of yum for wine and food matching. The idea being that historically winemakers in Europe produced wines that paired nicely with the cuisine of the region. This approach ties together classical regional ingredients with traditional dishes and preparations to navigate you toward winning combinations like pinot noir and beef stew, sauvignon blanc and goats’ cheese or sangiovese and all things tomato.
It’s rudderless when it comes to traditional dishes from regions that don’t make wine.
Many classic wine and food matches, such as mature vintage port wine and Stilton cheese or Sauternes and foie gras, involve items that aren’t on most people’s shopping lists. Not only are they not conventional meals, they ultimately aren’t a great match if you don’t like one or both sides of the equation.
The only certainty is that all these different approaches cause confusion and make wine seem more mysterious than it is.
Much of the blame is shared by wine marketers, educators and columnists who tell wine lovers what to drink with their meals as opposed to empowering them to taste and discover what they personally enjoy. After all, the style of wine and types of dishes we enjoy are personal preferences.
A perfect food and wine pairing that works for everyone doesn’t exist. Some are better than others. Why not have fun and experiment? With that in mind, here are two guidelines to help you decide what you wish to eat and drink together.
Start with a wine that you know you’ll enjoy
It’s important to start your menu or meal planning on a solid footing by buying or selecting a bottle that you like. Don’t steer away from a wine you wish to drink because it isn’t “right” for the meal you wish to enjoy. I’ve long been a believer that if you like a specific wine and a specific dish, chances are they will work well together. If the pairing doesn’t taste right to you, you can make a different decision on a wine next time.
Pair with the most dominant flavour of the dish
If you are looking to harmonize your wine and dinner plans, don’t base your wine choice on the protein – steak, chicken or fish, etc. The sauce or cooking method will have more influence on the flavour of your meal. Wines with good acidity, like Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc for instance, match nicely with simply prepared dishes, while full-bodied, richer whites, such as barrel-fermented chardonnays, harmonize with baked or roasted entrées in cream- and cheese-based sauces. With red wines, look to mirror the body and intensity of flavour of your wine with how intensely flavoured the dish is.